In recent years, the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art has developed a strong partnership with its Sarasota neighbor, New College of Florida (NCF), to promote their shared goal of providing quality arts education to students and the general public.
NCF owes much of its history to the Ringling brothers, specifically Charles Edward Ringling, who was the older brother of John Ringling and co-owner of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The campus resides on Ringling’s former estate, which his wife Edith and their daughter Hester lived in for for decades (him having passed away shortly after it was finished). Ringling’s former mansion, which contained one of the first swimming pools in Florida as well as imported furnishings from all over the world with some pieces being over 200 years old, was sold to NCF in 1962. It is now known as College Hall, one of NCF’s signature buildings.
The former Ringling estate is contiguous with the former home of Ralph Caples, the man who convinced John Ringling– who later persuaded Charles Ringling– to move the circus headquarters to Sarasota and take up residence there. This ended up being crucial to the city’s growth and expansion. His wife Ellen Caples was known as Sarasota’s First Lady due to her support of art, music, and theatre education until her death at 98. Caples’s home was also given to NCF in 1962, and today it hosts faculty offices and art history classes. Both mansions have similar plans and are reported to have had the same designer.
Today NCF and The Ringling continue to collaborate for the betterment of students and arts education. NCF students regularly work with The Ringling through internships and research and are granted access to its Art Library. Perhaps the most valuable collaboration is Sharing the Scholarship, an annual art lecture series between the two venues that showcases papers written by art history students. NCF’s website states that the lectures “give students the chance to explore their own ideas about works of art and share these ideas with the wider community.” Lectures are held every spring during March and April at the The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art’s Johnson-Blalock Education Center and are free and open to the public, covering a wide variety of artists and historical periods.
According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, NCF has pushed for greater funding of their arts programs and is looking to “expand arts education in a partnership with Florida State University.” In particular they aim to enrich programs and create more positions at the Ringling and the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training so that they may offer a competitive program for prospective art students despite their small size.
The Herald-Tribune quotes Stephen Miles, NCF’s vice president for academic affairs, as saying, “We’ve needed this and the time was also right for FSU to move. For us to try and do this on our own when we’re sitting next to a national leader would not make sense.” Such a partnership benefits everyone involved, including the Sarasota community. Resident artists will have the chance to exhibit their work and promote the programs of both schools, maximizing the educational potential for all.